February Legislative Update

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

It’s time that we protect the PFD. The House is working on the FY 2019 budget. With the likelihood that for the first time in this state’s history state services will be financed through the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund, it is time that we put our money where our mouth is and protect the Permanent Fund Dividend. That is why I have co-sponsored HJR 23 to amend the Alaska State Constitution to put the dividend into the Constitution. I do not believe that we should finance state government on the backs of the hardworking men and women in this state who rely upon the dividend to make ends meet.

Since Alaska’s fiscal crisis came to a head, the Legislature has cut over $3 billion from the state’s budget. While I believe we need a comprehensive fiscal plan, we also need to find ways to more responsibly manage the state’s finances. This includes a spending cap to put downward pressure on our operating budget. For this reason, I have introduced HB 369, which would impose a state spending cap. I also supported HB 215, which has now passed the House. This would allow the Department of Health and Social Services to collect fees for things they are required to do like certifying and inspecting X-Ray and MRI devises. This bill assures that those who utilize such department services pay for them.

The Military and Veterans Affairs and Judiciary Committees on which I serve are working on HB 307. This bill continues to update the Alaska Code of Military Justice to make sure that it is in line with the U.S. Code of Military Justice. Moreover, I am honored to support HJR 17, which encourages Congress to allow Hmong veterans the right to be buried in national cemeteries. These veterans fought to protect US servicemen during the Vietnam War and deserve the recognition that they are due. I hope to see you at Anchorage Caucus or the Constituent Meeting, but if you can’t make it, please know that I am always available over the phone or via email.

Please stay in touch.


January Legislative Updates

I’m back in Juneau and feeling cautiously optimistic about the 2018 session. Finance subcommittees have started to meet, and after several special sessions that seemed never to end, my colleagues and I are anxious to pass a fully-funded budget as quickly as we can.

The Governor introduced his priorities in the recent State of the State address. Creating safer communities in Alaska is a shared priority for us all. With the recent massive earthquake that struck in the Gulf of Alaska, we see how funding for state troopers, police, public safety and emergency preparedness is critical across the state. We can no longer afford to chop funding for these services— in many cases, our lives are on the line. Speaking of public safety, the courts are using a new assessment tool that helps determine if someone accused of a crime should be put out on bail. As this new bail policy rolls out, I want to hear from you to see if you think it’s impacting public safety in the district.

Legislative Council is reviewing the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy. To serve as an assurance that the Legislature takes sexual harassment seriously, I’ve sponsored HB 276 to modernize the Legislature’s currently out-of-date policy. I’m also a co-sponsor on HB 216. Now, the PFDs of inmates are spent on their health care instead of paying restitution to the victims of their crimes. This bill places crime victims first.

As always, please contact me over the phone, online, or in person with your questions and concerns. I look forward to seeing you back in the neighborhood soon.

December Updates

I hope this holiday season finds you well. I am looking forward to spending quality and peaceful time with family and friends in the coming weeks, while appreciating just how lucky we are to live in the greatest state in the greatest nation on earth.

I know there are a million things to do during the holidays, but I want to let you know about a Snow Removal Town Hall hosted by a group of local and state representatives, including myself. Representatives from DOT and the Municipality’s Maintenance division will be in attendance to describe snow removal and plowing procedures, as well as answer your questions. Hopefully we all learn something, and can work with maintenance crews to find solutions that make our streets safer and more functional.

The event is Monday, December 18, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Wonder Park Elementary School (5101 E 4th Ave). Please come by if this is of interest to you. I’ve been told there will be cookies.

Also, please save the date for an East Anchorage constituent meeting put on by Senator Wielechowski and me. It will be Thursday, January 11, 2018, from 6:30-8 p.m. at Begich Middle School (7440 Creekside Center Drive). We’d love to hear your concerns, questions, ideas, and suggestions. We’re also buying pizza. I hope you are able to make it.

With winter weather, increased traffic, and people celebrating the holidays, I pray that you and your family remain safe and healthy this holiday season.

Thanksgiving and Adjournment of Fourth Special Session

I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving! And I hope that you were able to spend quality time with friends and family, and took a moment to relax and appreciate the many gifts that life has given us.

On November 21st, the 4th Special Session of 2017, called by the governor to focus on public safety and new revenue, came to a close. While I am disappointed that the Senate again chose to ignore the facts and not address our structural fiscal issues, the legislature made Alaska a safer place by passing SB54. Some important provisions of the bill were:

  • Reinstituting jail time as a penalty for first-time class C felony convictions (e.g. vehicle theft, theft in the 2nd degree, etc.), and increasing penalties for repeat C felony convictions;
  • Increasing penalties for repeat class A misdemeanor offenses;
  • Increasing penalties for low-level theft convictions, including possible jail time; and
  • Returning violation of conditions of release (VCOR) to a criminal offense (SB91 made it a violation).

I personally sponsored the amendment which added the possibility of jail for first-time low-level theft convictions. This provision was driven by input from business owners in our community. I thank them for reaching out to me, and I was glad to see this amendment pass on the House floor.

The bill did many other things to improve public safety. SB 54, as amended by the House, was tougher on crime than the bill passed by the Senate, while also being smarter on crime. SB54 capped probation officer caseloads, and required alcohol screening and education for more people. However, after many hours of public and expert testimony, and much reflection, I came to believe that SB91 had placed the  cart before the horse in that treatment and prevention measures were not put into place before reducing penalties for many crimes. The better solution would have been to repeal SB91 and to start over. That is how I voted. Nevertheless, I believe the legislature can be proud of its responsiveness to constituents in passing a much “beefed up” version of SB54.

The spike in crime highlights the need for a comprehensive fiscal plan.  Although I hope SB54 will help reduce crime, we do not have enough prosecutors and public safety officers as a result of our fiscal situation. Alaskans deserve essential public safety services, and government must have a structured and reliable way to pay for them.

I am thankful that this past session is the last special session of 2017. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my office to let me know how I can best serve you or our community. I wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.

Special Session & Public Safety

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones well.

This weekend, I will be returning to Juneau to attend another special session. There we will be considering two bills that the governor has placed before us: SB54, a bill to fix some of the issues found in the major criminal justice reform bill SB91, and a yet-to-be named payroll tax bill.

First, my thoughts on SB54: I am extremely concerned about the increases in some crimes around Anchorage, and I have been listening to law enforcement, prosecutors, other experts, and my constituents to find out what is happening in our community and what can be done to help. What I’ve heard is that an economy in recession, a burgeoning opioid epidemic, reduced budgets for troopers, prosecutors and the courts, and some impacts from SB91 (not enough deterrence for some crimes, and insufficient funding and poor timing for some crime reduction programs) are likely to blame for the increases in crime. Whatever the causes, I am committed to finding solutions that keep our neighborhoods and Alaskans safe, and that deal with crime at its root, which includes treatment, strong supervision for people on probation and parole, and stricter sentences in some cases. No bill is perfect, but SB54 addresses some of my main concerns (penalties for first-time class C felonies, repeated low-level thefts, and violations of conditions of release), and I hope that more solutions will come out as we work through the legislative process.

Reducing crime and increasing the safety and security of our neighbors is yet another reason why we need a comprehensive fiscal plan. Public safety costs money. I dislike taxes, but I’d rather pay some tax than be robbed in my home or have my car stolen. We can’t cut our way to safe and healthy communities.

That being said, I don’t like the governor’s proposed payroll tax. It hits middle and working-class people harder than it does high income earners, and its regressive nature harms the economy more than a progressive tax would. In any event, I don’t believe this tax has much chance of passing the Senate since the Senate Majority has taken the position that reductions to the Permanent Fund dividend are the only new source of revenue they are interested in.

As I head to Juneau, and while I’m there, I’d like to hear from you. Please reach out to me and my office at any time. Hearing from you helps me better represent you.